After our stay in Kununurra we made the short 3 hour drive out to Spring Creek Rest Area where we planned to free camp and then spend the next day exploring the ‘Bungle, Bungle Range’. The couple of nights we spent here, essentially on the side of the road, have been amongst the most memorable.
When we arrived we could see some kids peering out from behind a big bus looking at our ‘rig’ as we rolled in, pondering the same question that our tribe always do – ‘Are there any kids?’ And of course there were. It did not take long at all until all the kids were playing and having a ball together. Tobias quickly invited himself on the bus and was merrily playing with the abundance of toys that were before him. Tom and I also made our introductions and before long we were exchanging our life stories and hopes for the future. After about an hour or so another family arrived back from the Bungle Bungles who were travelling companions to the first family that we had met earlier. That evening was spent chatting, sharing a few beers and the kids eating zooper doopers and roasting marshmallows. Isaac also befriended another family and found a kindred spirit amongst them. It was one big party!! But not too late as we had an early start in the morning.
The next morning we were up with the birds and headed into the Bungle Bungle Range, in Purnululu National Park. The road in is only accessible to 4WD and it takes a good hour and a half to two hours (depending on how you drive) to reach the the visitor centre and then another half hour to begin one of the walks.
The Bungle Bungle Range is amongst one of the most unusual and curious landforms. While this range has been there for millions of years it only became known to the broader populous in the early 1980’s when a documentary film crew began to take footage of this mysterious landform and bought this wonderous maze of beehive shaped domes to the attention of the world. In 2003 it was listed as a World Heritage Site for its geological significance and its outstanding beauty.
As we approach the range we are surprised at how much you can see from the ground. Whenever I’ve seen docos and the like on the ‘Bungle, Bungle Range’ the images are always aerial views. Seeing them from the ground however is definitely worth it and still spectacular.
It is a really hot day the day that we go, reaching almost 40 degrees, even after we started out so early. It is hard going!! We don’t have ambitions to walk great distances so plan to walk to Piccaninny Lookout and Cathedral Gorge. First we head to Piccaninny Lookout. It is an easy walk, but we are all struggling in the heat. We make it however and are so glad that we persevered.
We then made our way to Cathedral Gorge. This gorge is aptly named with a large, naturally occuring amphitheatre at its heart. The acoustics are awesome, with the kids and I trying to test them out without drawing too much attention to ourselves.
We crossed the WA/NT border and after getting rid of our fresh produce with a big ‘feast’ of apples and oranges, we were delighted to be reminded of the fact that by crossing the border we were in a different time zone and therefore 3pm was now 1.30pm. This meant that we now had more time to find accommodation for the night.
We found a playground (which is no mean feat in Kununurra) and decided that we would stay at Ivanhoe Village Caravan Resort. While ‘resort’ may be a little bit too strong a word, we certainly enjoyed our time there over the next few days.
Kununurra, the ‘gateway to the Kimberley’, was where we based ourselves to explore some of the little treasures of the area and while we didn’t get to do ‘The Gibb’ we decided we would still try to get out to El Questro – the first or last stop on the Gibb depending on which way you’re travelling. Originally we had planned to drag the caravan in and camp a night or two as it is a sealed road all the way to the turn off to El Questro itself. The advice online was mixed as to whether the road in was suitable for 2WD vehicles however we decided we didn’t want to risk it after we had done some damage to our van after visiting the Zebra Rock Mine. After visiting El Questro we were convinced this was the right decision although we wished we had more time to explore El Questro.
There is so much to do at El Questro with all budgets catered for. As our budget was $0 we opted for the ‘self guided’, ‘no frills’ experience and headed out to Zebedee Springs. No helicopter rides for us! We walked the 1.5 km walk from the carpark to be greeted by yet another oasis and warm inviting water. It was a beautiful spot for a relaxing soak.
Now supposedly the water was filled with leeches. This meant that I made a very quick exit after being informed of this fact and after seeing what I thought was a leech swimming in the water. The others were not deterred. The dip proved uneventful and everyone left without any little friends.
After Zebedee Springs we headed to El Questro Gorge. This involved a serious water crossing that made me very nervous as our 4WD does not have a snorkel which we were advised to have in order to make this crossing. Tom was fairly confident we could do it after observing a couple of other vehicles cross, so off we went. I anxiously held my breath and tried to think of a way to pay for any potential damage should the need arise as Tom edged his way across the water safely to the other side.
On arriving at El Questro Gorge, I realised that the impending adventure of trekking into El Questro Gorge meant that we were not going to make it back to Emma Gorge in time. I was disappointed that we were going to miss out on visiting Emma Gorge, one may argue ‘the highlight’ of El Questro Homestead. “Oh well, I thought, just means I have to come back again!”
We only made it to the first pool. It was a long, tricky hour or so walk in, but again, we felt like we had the place to ourselves, only coming across a couple of other groups of walkers. We had a few rocks to jump over to avoid getting wet which is always a hit with the kids. Both Tobias and Matisse were casualties but they continued on.
The other highlight of our time in Kununurra was our trip out to Lake Argyle. We decided we would just take a day trip out to Lake Argyle to spend the day at the much talked about ‘infinity pool’. It was definitely one of my favourite days of the trip.
We started the day with 8.30 am mass and then jumped in the car for the hour drive out to Lake Argyle. Lake Argyle is a manmade, freshwater lake in the heart of the rugged, Kimberley outback. The lake was formed by the damming of the Ord River that occured in the 60’s in order to provide irrigation to the remote Kimberley region and to harness the rains of the wet season. Lake Argyle is the major storage reservoir of the Ord River. This lake is huge. At normal supply it has 18 times the volume of water of Sydney Harbour. If it were to flood, it could fill the harbour 70 times.
Once enjoying a picnic lunch overlooking the lake and having a little drive around, the infinity pool at Lake Argyle Caravan Park was next on our agenda. This was fun and truly spectacular. The views really were amazing and the photo ops one in a million!!
After a beautiful day relaxing by the pool what could be better than happy hour accompanied by some mellow tunes. We were lucky enough to listen to the very country sounds of resident singer/songwriter Steven Case and enjoy a very welcomed drink on the lawns of the caravan park watching the sunset over Lake Argyle. Oh! Happy Days!! What’s more, the kids happily joined us, finding their own space on some towels and chilling out to the ‘outback grooves’.
What a happy day! We all drove home with such a feeling of contentment and joy. It was a day we didn’t want to come to an end but we looked forward to what awaited us next and where the road may take us.
We left Kakadu bound for Western Australia. I was particularly excited to be homeward bound. We decided not to tackle the Gibb River Road in the end because while Tom and I were keen to try it, we realised that the kids were not going to cope with the demands of the Gibb, nor were they going to appreciate the beauty of the region, as well as the fact that we were not going to be able to stock enough food for us all. Tom and I have come to realise that waterfalls, gorges and swimming holes are to Australia as churches are to Rome and our kids were reaching saturation point.
So we headed west not really sure what we were going to do. We had hoped to spend a few nights at the Zebra Rock Mining Camp Stay but they had closed for the season. The retail shop however was still open (just) so we braved the corrugated road in to find out exactly what zebra rock is as I had never heard of it.
Basically it is an unusual rock, found only in a small pocket of the world on the border of NT and WA, that has unusual patterns that resemble that of a zebra. It is pretty cool actually. Check out the website: Zebra Rock Mine.
The kids were invited to polish their own piece of zebra rock and were encouraged to take the rock home and promote its preservation.
I was lucky enough to pick up a bargain pair of earrings.
The mine also had a few local friends that the kids were introduced to.
As we drove out of Darwin I had a great sense of anticipation and excitement driving towards Kakadu. I must say first off that Kakadu has been for me the highlight of our trip so far. Interestingly there are a few naysayers out there that have coined the term ‘Kakadon’t’ because of the over commercialisation of the park and are of the opinion there are better places to see in the NT. While that might be true, I thoroughly enjoyed our time in Kakadu and would recommend it to those exploring the north.
I had put together a very well planned itinerary for our time there as the anticipated 7 or 8 days we had originally thought we would spend in Kakadu had whittled down to 4 or 5 days. We ended up spending 5 nights but it so easily could have been longer. There is so much to do!!
We decided to break the trip into two parts. The first part of our time would be spent at the northern end of the park at Merls Campground and then the second couple of days were yet to be decided. We arrived at Merls around lunch time and as the peak tourist season was coming to a close we had our pick of campsites with only two or three other campers occupying other sites. We planned to go to the guided ranger walks at Ubirr Rock that evening, but not before we made a quick trip to the Visitors Centre.
Our visit to Ubirr was both informative and transformative. Ubirr is particularly known for its Aboriginal rock art but it also has amazing views over Kakadu. The beautiful landscape once again captured my imagination with the richness of the indigenous culture and their love of country and story furthering my interest in this ancient people. The ranger was able to impart a real wealth of knowledge and an obvious love and respect for the land.
The view of the setting sun from the summit of Ubirr rock is absolutely stunning but unfortunately Tom had taken Tobias back to the car and the camera along with him. This being said, photos never do the experience any justice so it will just have to remain etched in my memory.
We headed back to our campsite and for the first time since beginning our trip we could not eat outside because of the mozzies!! They were vicious!! Matisse in particular cops it. The next day, although we took every precaution to stop her from being bitten, we were able to play dot to dot on her legs, poor poppet!!
On the agenda for our second day was Nourlangie. Nourlangie (Burrungkuy) is one reason why Kakadu is World Heritage-listed for outstanding cultural values. This place holds significance because it documents environmental and social changes in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers reflected through rock art. There are layers and layers of art etched one upon the other. For the traditional owners the act of painting is itself the most important thing and therefore the newer paintings replace the old.
On our way into Nourlangie we also stopped in to Jabiru to pick up some supplies and to try and get some coverage in order to make some phone calls. Jabiru has an interesting history. It is a township in the world heritage listed Kakadu, yet was established as an uranium mining town. It is a unique juxtaposition. The mine is actually due to close in 2021 and Jabiru has become a bit of a ‘watch this space,’ with the NT government planning to invest millions in the area to ensure the towns survival and to improve tourism.
In the afternoon we went to visit Cahill’s Crossing. This is a water crossing into Arnhem Land that is synonymous with saltwater crocodiles. So off we went croc spotting. There were some who are much braver than I fishing off the rocks as five or six (visible) crocs lurk about. We all stood well back and observed from a very safe distance. It was also a little sobering to see these creatures at such close a distance in their natural habitat.
The next morning we packed up and headed to Cooinda Lodge. Cooinda was a find!! They don’t charge for kids (always a winner in my book), they have a great resort style pool, they have hot showers and they have a nightly ‘happy hour’ with half price drinks, What’s not to love?! We also ended up with a fantastic site. I was in a happy place and so were the kids!
Our first day at Cooinda was spent doing…well…not much. We sat by the pool, the kids swam and played at the playground and Tom and I partook in ‘happy hour’. The kids were able to make some friends with other kids who were also doing the ‘travelling thing’. Isaac in particular met up with his friend Luke who he has been bumping into ever since Uluru. This would be the last opportunity for them to play however as we were heading west and they were heading east to Cape York. It is amazing how many families are on the road. We have made friends with lots of families from all walks of life who are trying to take a break from the busyness of life and slow things down, all with their own reasons as to why they have decided to hit the road. It has been nice meeting and chatting to people along the way.
The next morning we headed out on the Yellow River Sunrise Tour. We spent two hours exploring the wetlands of the South Alligator River, a definite must while visiting Kakadu. The river system, the largest in Kakadu, is home to a diverse range of birdlife (over 60 species of birds) and other wildlife (buffalo and crocodiles) and is made up of extensive river channels, blackswamps and floodplains.
The sunrise tour was then finished off with a buffet breakfast back at Cooinda Lodge. Seriously good!! What a great way to start the day and now that we had been well fed we made our way to Maguk.
Maguk waterfall and plunge pool are a wondrous sight to behold. Not only because of their pristine beauty but also because of the arduous trek you have to make to get there you are so glad to finally reach them. Maguk falls lies within the Maguk escarpment and Arnhem Land Plateau that toogether make up the stone country. It is mostly comprised of ‘Kombolgie sandstone’ and has been dated at 1.8-1.6 billion years old. The plateau runs for approximately 500 kms.
To access Maguk you need a 4WD. Once arriving at the carpark there is then a moderate walk to get to the plunge pool through a monsoon rainforest. It was hot and it involved a bit of rock scrambling and coaxing of Tobias, but we made it in. We only swam in the bottom pool but the kids had fun jumping off rocks and swimming out to the falls.
Our final, big adventure in Kakadu was Jim Jim Falls. This was one of those epic moments that you are so proud of yourself for having achieved. Whoever writes the signs or figures out the walk gradings for NT Parks, I have come to the realisation, must be delusional. I learnt that I should never trust those silly signs and instead I would read the time suggestion and then add at least an hour or two! Nothing about Jim Jim was easy or ‘moderate’. It was a 4WD track in and then a tough, hot walk into the plunge pool which at times involved leaping between scalding, hot, boulders while carrying a 3 year old, but it was totally worth it. Tom and I marvelled together at the remoteness of this place and how we felt blessed at being counted among the few who had been lucky enough to visit. Getting to Jim Jim required an adventurous spirit and at the end of the day we all felt like we had achieved something worthwhile, the kids included.